A Modern Family – Helga Flatland

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Hello and welcome to my stop on the A Modern Family blog tour. I’m delighted to be able to share an extract from the book with you!

 

The meat is bloody, the red liquid seeps out from between the fibres of the veal fillet as my fork pierces the steak’s crust. I do my best not to compare it to the blood I awoke to this morning, large streaks of red staining the bedsheets and my underwear and my thighs. My body is trying to make a point, I told Simen as I pulled off the bedsheets while he still lay in the bed. Don’t even bother trying, that’s what it’s saying, I’m here to show you that the more you hope, the more unequivocally I’ll refuse you, tell you no, not a bloody chance of it, I muttered quickly under my breath. I didn’t cry this time, not like last month.

Last month, twenty-nine days ago, we awoke to cloud cover and cold rain in Oslo.

The beams of sunlight that shone through the window and illuminated my body as I showered this morning, the scent of the sea and the slightly spicy fragrance of our natural surroundings here in Italy made this setback slightly easier to deal with. It’s Dad’s birthday, after all, I said to Simen after the blood and my initial reaction to its appearance had washed away down the plughole. Either way, I have to pretend as if nothing’s amiss, I just have to suppress it. Yes, he replied, we just have to make the best of the day ahead; he held me close, a long embrace, and I felt as if I could smell the disappointment where my head rested at the hollow of his neck.

I extricated myself from his embrace and left the room without looking at him, making my way to the kitchen where Hedda was the first to meet my gaze. I tried to avoid eye contact, did my best not to lose my composure because she’s always reminded me of what I don’t have; over the past year I’ve felt myself on the verge of being so furious with Hedda that I don’t know what to do with myself; it comes out of nowhere, sudden and explosive, and I can do nothing but remov myself from the situation. It’s totally unacceptable, I haven’t even mentioned it to Simen, I realise how unfair and petty and embarrassing it is.

Today I chose to make jam for her instead, mostly to have a dig at Liv, exaggerating the sweetness, which Liv and Olaf seem more afraid of than anything else in life. And for once it helped to be close to her, to stroke Hedda’s smooth hair, her soft skin, to see her so thrilled with the jam that was so sweet it was virtually inedible, the jam I’d made just for her.

It also helped to spend five thousand kroner on a handbag, leaving my conscience to busy itself with something else altogether. It helped to leave Simen back at the house with my family, and it helped knowing that he’d spend his morning playing in the pool with Agnar and Hedda – the easy way out, but even so. It helped to stroll around the square in the old town, to buy meat and vegetables with Liv, it helped  to talk about anything else, about dinner, about the fact that Dad was turning seventy. I used to wonder what he’d look like when he was old, back when I was a girl, Liv said. How he’d look when he was seventy, you know, because that would make him ancient. Maybe I didn’t even imagine he’d live that long, she continued. But it turns out he’s just the same as he ever was.

I don’t agree that Dad is the same, he’s become an amplified version of himself – a caricature, in a way, as I attempted to explain to Simen before we left for Italy. Most people are like that, Simen said. They become parodies of themselves towards the end, whether they want to or not. I wonder why that is, I said, if it’s because people are getting ready to kick the bucket and feel the need to leave a lasting impressionof themselves before they disappear, maybe, to make sure those of us left behind remember them more distinctly. Simen laughed, I daren’t imagine what you’ll be like when you hit seventy, he said, you’re already a caricature of yourself. But then, we all become more self-centred with age, so perhaps I won’t even notice, he added.

Simen and I have been together for over a year now, and to this day I remain pathetically relieved whenever I hear him speak about a distant future that includes me, which depicts the two of us together. He’s the only person who’s created a fear that they might walk out on me; in previous relationships, there’s always been a part of me that’s hoped that the person I’ve been with would grow bored of things before I did; I’ve wished for less security in relationships rather than giving in to puppyish reliance and dependence. Now I’d love to feel more secure in my relationship with Simen, secure in the knowledge he’ll stay with me in spite of my body’s efforts to sabotage us, but Simen gives no guarantees.

I was surprised when he accepted the invitation to come to Italy with my family. I’ve never quite been able to tell whether he likes them or not, he always seems nervous and uncomfortable around them, he overcompensates and becomes boastful and envious when we’re with them – particularly when Dad’s around. I’ve tried joking about it, told him there’s no need to compete with my father, if that’s what he’s trying to do, but it’s one of the few things Simen won’t laugh about, and it’s clear he’s not able to do so.

Am I not allowed to touch you in front of your family? he’s asked me in the past. Most of the time he has other plans when I ask him if he wants to come for dinner at Mum and Dad’s, or to join in with any other activities that involve spending time with my family. I found it strange at first, past boyfriends have almost seemed keener than me to spend time with them, but after a while I realised that he probably felt the same way I did: I like Simen’s family, but I prefer my own.

 

Thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part on the blog tour and to Karen Sullivan for sending me a copy of the book.

It’s not long now until you can read the whole book yourself, A Modern Family is published on the 21st June, but for now follow the rest of the blog tour, below.

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The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone – Felicity McLean

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We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992, growing up in an isolated suburb in Australia surrounded by encroaching bushland. That summer, the hottest on record, was when the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – mysteriously disappeared during the school’s Showstopper concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river.  Did they run away? Were they taken?  While the search for the sisters unites the small community, the mystery of their disappearance has never been solved.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home and is beginning to make sense of that strange moment in time. The summer that shaped her.  The girls that she never forgot.

Brilliantly observed, spiky, sharp, funny and unexpectedly endearing, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – with a dark shimmering unexplained absence at its heart.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is told over a duel timeline by the same narrator, Tikka. It starts off in 1992 when Tikka is eleven years old and then alternates with the present day. Tikka has just returned home to a small town in Australia, from Baltimore, USA, to visit her family and the past quickly catches up with her. The disappearance of the Van Apfel girls twenty years earlier visibly still haunts Tikka and being back where it all happened starts to make her question events and her own decisions made at the time.

This is very much a character driven novel, exploring the relationships between families, sisters, friends and members of the community. The characters are vividly written, particularly the Van Apfel sisters, their father and Tikka, and Felicity McLean transports you right into the searing Australian heat. It’s oppressive, like the girls father, Mr Van Apfel. Some of the events concerning Mr Van Apfel are disturbing, especially when told through eleven year old Tikka. She was witnessing things she didn’t understand, things that were wrong, and which scared her and this only adds to the tension that is building. It is uncomfortable; you know the girls disappear at the Showstopper concert and the story slowly makes its way to this point.

There is a lot left unsaid in this book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not open for interpretation. I imagine this will be frustrating for some readers, but I also think it is a theme that has run throughout, especially for Tikka. Although things don’t get tied up in the traditional sense, there is significance in the way the story ends.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a taut, unsettling thriller set against a searing Australian summer. You will think about it after you turn the last page.

Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour and to Point Blank for a copy of the book.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is published on the 6th June 2019 by Point Blank.

Follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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The Den – Abi Maxwell

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Henrietta and Jane are growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town, their mother a remote artist, their father in thrall to the folklore and legend of their corner of New England. When Henrietta falls under the spell of Kaus, an outsider and petty criminal, Jane takes to trailing the couple, spying on their trysts, until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods.

Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean. Elspeth’s pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent away from her Scottish village to make a new life in America. When she comes to the attention of the local mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfolds, culminating in her disappearance.

As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, each uncovers the strange legend of Cold Thursday, and of a family apparently transformed into coyotes. But what does his myth really mean? Are their sisters dead, destroyed by the men who desired them? Or have they made new lives, elsewhere, beyond the watchful eyes of the community they longed to escape?

The Den follows two sets of sisters, Henrietta and Jane in a relatively present day and Elspeth and Claire in the 1850s, who are connected not only by the place in which they live but by a local myth – Cold Friday.

The book starts with Henrietta and Jane’s story and cleverly weaves in aspects of Elspeth and Claire’s story, before going on to dedicated chapters of their own. The Den is very slow paced, but I think this adds to the tension that is always bubbling under the surface. There is a constant feeling of unease that something is going to happen and this is expressed through the relationship between Henrietta, Jane and their parents. You know something will take place, but you’re not sure when, and this makes Henrietta’s disappearance more unsettling.

Elspeth and her sister Claire are separated by the ocean, but write to each other constantly. When Elspeth’s letters stop, Claire becomes concerned and investigates until it is revealed to her that Elspeth disappeared, on a day known locally as Cold Friday. All that was found in Elspeth’s house was a pack of coyotes.

The myth aspect was one of my favourite things about the book. It not only linked the two stories together, but was also used to hide secrets; used as an excuse for events which took place; and to some extent brought comfort to the two sisters who were left behind.

There are other weather and environmental aspects which link not only the two stories, but are interwoven through Jane’s life after Henrietta disappeares. Whether this is clear to Jane is uncertain, but to the reader you know something is going to take place when this shift in the weather happens, usually something of significance. This is something I really enjoyed and I hope other people will notice too.

At times I found The Den to be an unsettling read, but this character driven novel explores relationships, communities and what it means to be different from those around you in a whole new way.

The Den is published by Tinder Press and is available now. Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part on the tour. Follow along here:

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The Botanist’s Daughter – Kayte Nunn

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A buried secret…

Present day: Anna is focused on growing her new gardening business and renovating her late grandmother’s house. But when she discovers a box hidden in a wall cavity, containing water colours of exotic plants, an old diary and a handful of seeds, she finds herself thrust into a centuries-old mystery. One that will send her halfway across the world to Kew Gardens and then onto Cornwall in search of the truth.

A lady adventurer…

1886: Elizabeth Trebithick is determined to fulfil her father’s dying wish and continue his life’s work as an adventurer and plant-hunter. So when she embarks on a perilous journey to discover a rare and miraculous flower, she will discover that the ultimate betrayal can be found even across the seas…

Two women, separated by centuries. Can one mysterious flower bring them together?

The first thing that struck me about The Botanist’s Daughter was the beautiful cover. It completely sets the tone of the book. Colourful, intriguing, new beginnings. I found the story to be part historical novel, mixed with part detective story. The two flowing nicely between the chapter’s set in 1886 with Elizabeth and 2017 with Anna. I enjoyed that I only had to read a few pages for Anna to discover the mysterious box hidden in her grandmother’s house and from there on in things only get more interesting, especially when Anna starts to read the diary, which is found inside the box, and then her adventure really begins.

This aspect is mirrored with Elizabeth’s chapters. She too is starting an adventure of her own, travelling out of a country she has never left to find a rare and very powerful flower in order to carry out her father’s last wish. A wish which she must carry out in secret, due to a rich and dangerous man looking for the same flower, but to use for the bad rather than the good.

The mirrored element of the book really worked and though Elizabeth and Anna lived centuries apart, their paths, and their characters, have a lot in common with each other.

There are plenty of supporting characters in both Anna and Elizabeth’s stories. Some are really likeable and others are really not! An opinion shared by Anna and Elizabeth themselves. I couldn’t help but think that Ed, who Anna meets in her story, was very much like a Hugh Grant character – Bridget Jones’ Diary in particular sprang to mind. The use of him calling her by her surname, perhaps too over familiar for someone he has just met! A quintisential Southern, English gentleman nonetheless. My favourite character in the book was Daisy, Elizabeth’s maid. She’s tough, kind and caring and really develops as the story progresses. I would have loved more chapters on Daisy, she’s a wonderful character and, like the flowers, represents hope, goodness and survival.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me was actually learning about the flowers. From their original names, to their meanings, to the vibrant way in which they are described. You are instantly transported to Chile, Kew Gardens and the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. The precise detail in which the flowers are written about is wonderful and you can imagine yourself in each location immediately. The descriptions create a very serene atmosphere, which is cruelly taken away from you. I did not see the dramatic turn of events coming! There is little else I can say about it without spoilers, but I was completely shocked.

The end of the book left me wanting more and I sensed that the story has the potential to not be over.

The Botanist’s Daughter is a quick paced but mysterious read, which transports you across time and place and is filled with an abundance of flowers.

Thank you to Alex at Orion for my copy of the book, which is available to buy now!

Follow the rest of the tour here:

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Baxter’s Requiem – Matthew Crow

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Mr Baxter is ninety-four years old when he falls down his staircase and grudgingly finds himself resident at Melrose Gardens Retirement Home. 

Baxter is many things – raconteur, retired music teacher, rabble-rouser, bon viveur – but ‘good patient’ he is not. He had every intention of living his twilight years with wine, music and revelry; not tea, telly and Tramadol. Indeed, Melrose Gardens is his worst nightmare – until he meets Gregory. 

At only nineteen years of age, Greg has suffered a loss so heavy that he is in danger of giving up on life before he even gets going. 

Determined to save the boy, Baxter decides to enlist his help on a mission to pay tribute to his long-lost love, Thomas: the man with whom he found true happiness; the man he waved off to fight in a senseless war; the man who never returned. The best man he ever knew.

With Gregory in tow Baxter sets out on a spirited escape from Melrose, bound for the war graves of Northern France. As Baxter shares his memories, the boy starts to see that life need not be a matter of mere endurance; that the world is huge and beautiful; that kindness is strength; and that the only way to honour the dead, is to live.

Baxter’s Requiem is one of those rare books that you know you’re going to love after just a few pages, and love it I did!

Moving between the past and the present, the book follows Baxter who has temporarily moved into a nursing home and he’s not good at being told what to do! He’s witty, sharp tongued and very sarcastic. He is also planning to travel to France to say one last goodbye to the man he loved and lost to the war, whether the nursing home staff allow it or not! To carry out his plan and ensure he safely gets to France, he enlists the help of Gregory who has just started to work at the nursing home, and who is battling a loss of his own.

Baxter recognised almost instantly that Gregory was grieving. He saw in Gregory the pain he had felt himself, without knowing anything about this young man’s loss. This was beautifully written and it dealt with grief in a very human and honest way. A way in which you would want someone to speak to you about it. Without Gregory initially realising it, Baxter has given him a purpose again. They are ultimately helping each other and it’s done in such a subtle and heartwarming way.

The chapters set in the past were some of my favourites in the book. You learn of Baxter’s wealth and how he met Thomas. Witnessing these two people fall in love was a beautiful thing. They are such wonderful characters, and so brilliantly written, that you feel as though you know them. They are the epitome of happiness and your heart breaks when they are torn apart. I also enjoyed how Baxter’s home is so perfectly described throughout these chapters and it becomes a character itself. It’s somewhere filled with love. It’s safe, it’s kind and it’s full of goodness. I was so pleased that it makes an appearance in the present chapters too.

In addition to Baxter and Gregory, the supporting characters in the book are also perfectly written and so real. They have their own flaws and are dealing with their own issues, and, without always knowing it, are also helping each other. Winnifred especially is incredible. She’s Baxter’s friend from childhood and is an utter joy! I think everyone will wish Winnifred was part of their real life. I loved her!

Baxter’s Requiem is a heartwarming, heartbreaking, beautiful book. It made me laugh and cry. It is only small but everything about it is perfectly formed. I am so glad that Anne Cater invited me to take part in this tour, otherwise I may never have come across Baxter and everything is the better for it. It will stay with me for a long time and has become one of my favourite books and certainly a top read of this year.

Baxter’s Requiem is an utter delight and I urge you to go and pick up a copy today – I adored it!

Thanks to Anne Cater and Corsair for my copy of the book, which is available now.

Follow the rest of the tour.

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Sleep – C.L. Taylor

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Hello and welcome to my stop on the Sleep blog tour.

All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn’t feel so guilty…

To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare.

Each of the guests have a secret, but one of them is lying – about who they are and why they’re on the island. There’s a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they’ve set their sights on Anna.

Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One deadly lie.

Someone’s going to sleep and never wake up…

Sleep is the first C. L. Taylor book I have read and it certainly lives up to all the hype! The action in this book starts from the get go, with the main character, Anna, involved in a car accident. To escape her awful past, the nightmares caused by the accident and the mysterious (and creepy) notes she has been receiving, she relocates to a remote Scottish island to work in a hotel and have a fresh start. However, it seems her past is about to catch up with her.

I loved how much the island and the weather in particular became a character throughout this book. It is so atmospheric and it adds to the tension that builds until the very last page. The fact that the killer is inside the hotel, where all the guests and Anna are trapped due to the storm, is a brilliant concept. You change your mind throughout as to who the killer could be and I really liked this aspect of the book. It keeps you guessing until the end.

Each of the characters in the book have their own secrets and pasts that they are tying to come to terms with or hide. I thought this was a very clever part of the storyline as you’re never quite sure who is telling the truth or who you can trust. In a small hotel, in the middle of nowhere, with no contact to the outside world, relationships start to become fraught and trust becomes more important than ever.

Sleep is a psychological thriller at its best. It’s full of twists and turns and you’ll not be able to put it down until you turn the last page.

Suspenseful, tense and gripping.

Thank you to Sabah Khan at Avon books for my review copy.

Sleep published on the 4th April 2019.

The Point of Poetry – Joe Nutt

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Hello and welcome to my stop on The Point of Poetry blog tour. I’m really happy to be sharing an extract from this wonderful book with you.

 

Two

The Hawk

(1970)

George Mackay Brown (1921–96)

Poetry is undoubtedly best read aloud. Even an epic like Milton’s Paradise Lost becomes a whole different beast when you listen to it, and there are contemporary poets who argue that to get the full, unadulterated beauty of any poem you need to hear the  poet themselves read it. They probably also think Elvis is still alive. Anyone who has heard that astounding early recording of Tennyson intoning ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ like a midnight visitor at Ebenezer Scrooge’s house, or heard Jeffrey Archer read any of his own literary efforts, will have their doubts as well as their scars. Even Hilary Mantel’s admirable eloquence on the page can be a bit harrowing when you listen to the voice God gave her coming out of a radio. Just because you can write something doesn’t mean you can read it. But one of the reasons I’ve chosen ‘The Hawk’, by the Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown, is because he is the exception that proves the rule. It is a gift to be able to read verse well and he had it, as well as an accent that is as wedded to his poetry as he was to his home. He spent almost all of his life in the small port of Stromness on Orkney’s mainland, apart from brief periods studying in Scotland. Few poets’ work is so deeply rooted in the soil of their birth.

I was lucky enough to spend many weeks in Orkney, staying in Stromness in a beautiful old house that had ships’ masts for beams and an ancient stone construction in the garden that was an old whaling inn. Every so often an unusually high tide would seep gently and silently up through the stone walls that pro- tected the house from the sea and flood the kitchen floor with crystal-clear, salty water. The owners kept all their kitchen equip- ment standing on hefty wooden boxes, just out of reach of these occasional inundations. Orkney is a windswept, treeless, remark- ably exhilarating corner of Great Britain.

‘The Hawk’ describes seven encounters in the bird’s life, on seven subsequent days, ending in its unremarkable death, shot by a crofter, Jock, concerned no doubt about his livestock. There are some spectacular birds of prey in that part of the world. The sight of large hen harriers, swooping low along fences and hovering over the heather, is not at all unusual. There are also large and aggressive great skuas, which although not hawks, are perfectly capable of killing a medium-sized mammal like a hare or rabbit and think nothing of driving you away with fierce clouts on your head with their flat feet. On one occasion on the island of Hoy, my springer spaniel picked up a huge, adult hare, still warm and limp, with a large hole in its flank I have no doubt was inflicted by a great skua. In remote fields, I’ve seen these huge birds shot dead, their massive wings stretched out, literally crucified onnbarbed wire fences. I imagine it’s because some crofters think that will deter others birds from attacking lambs or chickens.

Sitting on the small ferryboat returning to Stromness, the ferryman looked at the hare for a long time and eyed my dog suspiciously, who was bursting with pride, before furrowing his weatherbeaten brow and asking, ‘He’s a springer spaniel?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘But he’s really fast.’

‘The Hawk’ is a poignant little poem, capturing the bird’s rich life in one evocative encounter after another. A farmer’s collie protects a lamb, a group of twitchers point dozens of binoculars skywards at it, and it summarily disposes of a chicken, a rabbit and a blackbird before Jock puts an end to it without a second thought. Mackay Brown has that gift of so many great poets, a near-magical grasp of metaphor, so the chicken dies Lost in its own little snowstorm.

It’s a haggard old cliché that poets commune with nature. Wordsworth is imagined striding out, unsuitably dressed, head- first into a gale across some mountainous part of the Lake District, composing lines in his head, while Gerard Manley Hopkins goes into eco-despair over some spindly poplar trees someone cruelly chopped down without telling him. Less than ten minutes walk from where I am sitting and writing, in the corner of a large wheat field, shining in the August sun, is a tall, white alcove, open to the countryside it overlooks, a folly named locally as Cowper’s Alcove, after the poet and translator of Homer, William Cowper. He frequently sat in it and enjoyed the view across the fields to the villages beyond. The natural world is as natural a source of inspiration and subject matter for poets as is love or loss. Thomas Hardy can bring a stark, rocky pathway to life and Seamus Heaney can sweep you back with him to a childhood Irish bog so vividly that you can smell the peat. One of the greatest pleasures in reading poetry is that delightful sen- sation you get when a writer takes you with them somewhere else, somewhere often far more beautiful, vital and, hence, mem- orable than your geographical reality. It’s not a gift peculiar to poets, but they can do it in the blink of an eye and with far fewer words than most.

Perhaps it’s therefore no surprise that raptors seem popular with poets. Anyone who spends time in the countryside can’t but be impressed by the sight of any bird of prey hunting. Tennyson’s snapshot ‘The Eagle’ is as striking and succinct as the brush- work of an oriental calligrapher. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘The Windhover’ is simply stunning in its capturing of the complex, distinctive manoeuvres of a kestrel in flight, quite an achieve- ment in a poem about Jesus Christ. Ted Hughes, in contrast, goes for the less exciting image of a ‘Hawk Roosting’, yet ends up turning it into the most frightening symbol of nature’s utter thoughtlessness and amoral beauty. George Mackay Brown’s treatment, is workaday, matter-of-fact, a relaxed acceptance of life as he knew it was lived in Orkney. His hawk is just one character in an everyday Orcadian story.

One of the most consequential aspects of contemporary living is that quite recently mankind turned a historic corner and for the first time in human evolution, most of us now live in cities. If you are one of those fortunate individuals for whom the four seasons isn’t a hotel chain or a vintage rock band, then you will probably find ‘The Hawk’ and the entire genre of natural poetry it belongs to easier to read and more appealing. If the closest you come to the natural world is gazing out of a train window at uncontrolled and unidentifiable vegetable matter interspersed with leftovers from Network Rail as you commute to the office every morning, then you may well struggle. But then that’s one reason why I wrote this book. Wordsworth striding up that hill and Gerard Manley Hopkins blubbing at his pet poplar stumps were doing something we all probably need but most of us fail to do. They were thinking deeply about the physical and intellectual world in which every second of all our lives is spent. And wal- lowing up to their necks in it, swimming around in all that fresh air, low cloud and frolicking fauna, is one of the most powerful ways to link the two, the physical and the intellectual.

I, for one, am grateful to those who do haul their backsides out there in all weathers, amidst all that vigour and vitality, and write about the world we share with those other life forms in verse. I know it’s not something I can do and I also know that there are poets whose reflections on what they see and experience crashing through the heather, or sitting beneath lofty foliage, can enrich my own world view. One of the most persuasive art theorists I have ever read, the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovskii, argued that art existed ‘so that stones may be made stony’. The poet’s skill is in making us look at the world anew, through different, less tainted lenses. Everyday life corrodes things, Shklovskii argued. It neuters and greys-out things, renders them dull and uninspiring, whether they are the simplest of material objects, or the most subtle of emotions. All succumb to the same erosion. Poets are nature’s art restorers.

‘The Hawk’ doesn’t apotheosise the bird. George Mackay Brown isn’t Albrecht Dürer painting a young hare so lifelike you sense its timidity. For him the bird is an everyday sight, some- thing to be seen seven days a week, like the sea or the heather outside his home. What strikes me about the poem is the calm acceptance of death. He weaves it into the rhythm and fabric of the verse without fuss or drama. It’s the natural conclusion to a life led killing other things, neither sad nor tragic, just real. But like all great firework displays, something special is saved for the end and he gives us the space and quiet that follows to think about the poem’s only human character, Jock, and the reason or lack of reason that makes him lift that gun so nonchalantly. Without that pensive ending,‘The Hawk’ could so easily become every urban environmentalist’s anthem, a plaintive hymn about man’s inhumanity to fluffy stuff.

 

The Hawk

On Sunday the hawk fell on Bigging And a chicken screamed

Lost in its own little snowstorm. And on Monday he fell on the moor And the Field Club

Raised a hundred silent prisms. And on Tuesday he fell on the hill And the happy lamb

Never knew why the loud collie straddled him. And on Wednesday he fell on a bush

And the blackbird

Laid by his little flute for the last time. And on Thursday he fell onCleat

And peerie Tom’s rabbit

Swung in a single arc from shore to hill. And on Friday he fell on a ditch

But the rampant rat,

The eye and the tooth, quenched his flame. And on Saturday he fell on Bigging

And Jock lowered his gun

And nailed a small wing over the corn.

 

Thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to Unbound for a copy of the book.

Follow the rest of the tour this week!

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